When Dungeons & Dragons fans think of Barbarians, the first things that comes to mind are the class’ typical role as a party’s tank or their rage. Barbarians are often seen as uncivilized, primal beings who exist on the outskirts of society and lack intelligence and civilization. However, while many Barbarian builds lack intelligence, they are masters of survival and dealers in brutal death.
Depending on which Primal Path a Barbarian player chooses during character creation, they can hone their rage into near superhuman powers that rival magic-users in their ability to dole out massive damage. Their Constitution also allows them to put themselves recklessly on the front line to take massive amounts of damage and bounce back. The Primal Paths offer a number of interesting and unique features, and while they are all pretty powerful, some are more appealing than others.
8. Path of the Battlerager Is Held Back By Dated Mechanics
The Path of the Battlerager has some cool features, but the reason it’s at the bottom of this list is because it’s race-exclusive to Dwarven characters only. Additionally, some of its features could use a little work. Built around a particular part of Dwarven culture, these powerful Barbarians follow their gods of war. They wear bulky heavy armor adorned with spikes designed to damage enemies when they throw their bodies into battle like the well-honed weapons they are.
The spiked armor becomes just as much a part of their combat as the other weapons they wield, even granting them a small amount of extra damage as a bonus attack when an enemy is within five feet of them. They also have the ability to grant themselves temporary hit points when they use the Reckless Attack action and can use Dash as a bonus action to charge headlong into battle and start wreaking havoc on enemies.
7. Totem Warrior Is Surpassed By Another Nature-Based Primal Path
It may seem hard for outsiders to believe, but many Barbarian Primal Paths are incredibly spiritual journeys. The Path of the Totem Warrior, for example, is an intense bond between the Barbarian and a spirit animal who guides, protects and inspires the warrior’s movements and actions. Their bond becomes so close that, at times, the Barbarian practically becomes the beast who influences their day to day life in the heat of battle, mimicking their movements and activities to enhance their prowess.
As these Barbarians level up, they can adopt other Totem Animal features, or maintain their original animal to gain an even greater understanding of their power. This Path has a lot of potential for creating an almost traditional Barbarian, but there is another animal-oriented Primal Path that pushes this relationship beyond the spiritual and into the realm of reality, and that puts this one lower on the list.
6. Wild Magic Takes Away From the Barbarian’s Brute Strength
Barbarians tend to focus on physical strength and attacks, so adding magic into the mix detracts a bit from that primal nature. Still, there are some Barbarians who find themselves attuned to the natural forces around them regardless of their Primal Path, and that attunement grants them magical abilities that may not rival the casters in the party, but can still grant them an edge.
The Barbarians of the Path of Wild Magic have the ability to lash back at enemies with magical force damage while in a rage, locate items resonating with magical essence and determine the nature of that magic, even bolstering themselves or their companions with magical protection and benefits. While most Barbarians have some kind of minute connection to magic, be it through their Totem Animal, a god they serve or some unique source, shifting their focus to magical energies can make the smash and grab aspects of the class feel secondary.
5. Storm Herald Barbarians Channel Their Rage Into Magical Energy
Not unlike the Path of Wild Magic, the Barbarian Path of the Storm Herald has the ability to tap into the primal magical energies of the world to bolster their strength with powerful magic. These Barbarians channel their rage into a mantle of energy that whirls around them, lashing out and protecting them so they can go on fighting. Again, having access to magical energy is not uncommon for Barbarians, but reliance on it can detracts from the brute force Barbarians are known for.
These Barbarians are often in tune with their Druid and Ranger companions, their powers reflecting the natural world and their mantles drawing energy from a chosen storm aura like the Desert, Sea or Tundra. They master that storm energy, using it shield themselves from danger or add bursts of storm energy in their strikes against enemy forces.
4. Even Death Can’t Stop the Path of the Zealot Barbarian
Driven by the power of their divine connection to the god they serve, Barbarians who follow the Path of the Zealot find themselves able to channel their rage into divine acts of judgement and persecution against the faithless. However, to say they follow a righteous and good path is short-sighted; most of the gods who inspire warriors to follow this path may not be evil in nature, but they are rarely good either.
Their connection to divine power pushes these Barbarians into chaotic fits of battle rage that allow them to imbue their strikes with radiant and necrotic energy, and their fanatical obsession with the divine provides them with powerful focus and the ability to inspire zealotry those around them. One reason why this Path is better than others is that not even death can stop the Zealot from the rage of battle. Though they still have to make death saving throws, when they reach zero hit points, they’ll continue fighting even after death.
3. Path of the Ancestral Guardian Barbarians Have Rich Connections
The Path of the Ancestral Guardian is one of the most tribal Barbarian options, and it earns its spot near the top of the list. The tribes these warriors come from teach that the spirits of their ancestors linger in the material world as powerful guides and protectors. Barbarians on this Path have the ability to call on these ancestral spirts to aid them in battle when they go into a rage. To build this connection, Barbarians on this Path cover their body in tattoos that depict the triumphs and tribulations of those ancestors.
With features like Ancestral Protectors (which summons spirit ancestors to act as protectors while the Barbarian is raging) and Spirit Shield, these Barbarians have the power to protect themselves and their party members during tough battles, reducing the damage everyone takes.
As they advance in power and their bond with the ancestors grows, the Barbarian gains the ability to summon them and ask for guidance and advice, much like how way Clerics can commune with their deities when in need of spiritual guidance. For those looking to play a tribal focused Barbarian, the Path of the Ancestral Guardian is a great cornerstone for building a rich, historical connection to character’s tribe of origin.
2. Berserkers Have Incredible Amounts of Strength
The Path of the Berserker is one of the most brutal Barbarian subclasses because, for these warriors, rage is the very fire that fuels them in bloody and glorious battle. They ignore their own health and well-being when in a state of Berserker rage. When in a frenzied rage, they can make an extra attack as a bonus action. They suffer a point of exhaustion when the frenzied rage ends, but for these warriors, exhaustion is a small price to pay to layer attack upon bloody attack.
The Mindless Rage feature protects these Barbarians from charm and fear effects while raging, and as they level up they become the thing that those around them fear with the Intimidating Presence feature. At level 14, Berserkers gain the ability to strike back with their reaction at opponents within five feet who damage them outside their turn in what is essentially a free attack of opportunity without the opponent moving outside of their attack range. Entering into a mindless state of rage with no regard for their own physical body beyond the glory of the fight places this Barbarian second on the list.
1. Path of the Beast Has the Most Combat and Story Potential
The notion that Barbarians are little more than beasts is true for those who follow the Path of the Beast. In fact, their connection to the bestial part of themselves is so powerful that they can actually become beasts. Whether the spirit of an ancient beast inhabits their body, one of their parents was a lycanthrope, they descended from an archdruid or their ability was a gift from the fey, the Path of Beast grants these powerful warriors the ability to shapeshift into primal forms that allow them to bite, claw and tail-bash their enemies.
The beast within strengthens their abilities to jump, climb and swim, and as they continue to level up, their rage becomes so infectious that enemies around them can be affected by it. By the time they reach level 14, the call of the hunt is so powerful that it influences willing creatures around it, bolstering the Barbarian’s hit points by five for each ally who joins the hunt. Those allies can also roll an extra d6 damage to tack onto their attack damage total.
Giving into the nature of the beast seems like an easy thing to do when on the outside looking in, but these brutal Barbarians are on top of this list because becoming the beast is an art form that takes a lifetime of mastery — and leaves a trail of torn and bloodied corpses in their wake.
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